Chinese electric vehicle maker BYD is supplying face masks to Japan purchased by Softbank, as the country’s manufacturers rush to meet surging overseas demand amid the global spread of Covid-19.

Why it matters: Hit hard by plunging auto sales and core business shutdowns, more automakers are switching to manufacturing face masks.

  • China’s largest EV maker claims to be the world’s biggest mask producer, underscoring the country’s strength as a manufacturing powerhouse.

Details: BYD on Sunday confirmed that it has reached an agreement with Japanese conglomerate Softbank to supply 300 million face masks per month starting May, reported Shenzhen Special Zone Daily (in Chinese).

  • A day earlier, Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son said he obtained a monthly supply of 300 million face masks from BYD, which includes 100 million N95 masks and 200 million regular surgical masks. BYD will set up a new production line for Softbank, according to a Reuters report.
  • The news follows a recent deal between Warren Buffet-backed BYD and California to produce “a sustainable amount of” personal protection gear for the state, Nikkei Asian Review reported Thursday citing a state official.
  • Earlier this month, BYD was granted a permit by the US Food and Drug Administration to export Chinese-standard N95 respirators to the US, along with dozens of other Chinese mask makers, according to a FDA document.
  • The Shenzhen-based auto giant has offered medical supplies to 19 countries and regions along with China’s official foreign aid. Daily output in its factory has exceeded 15 million masks and it is currently expanding the capacity at a speed of 1 million units each day, according to the report.
  • A company representative said in Shenzhen Special Zone Daily that the move was in response to the Chinese government’s offers of aid to other countries, now that it has the pandemic under control.

Context: China reached production capacity of 116 million masks per day on Feb. 29, according to government figures, a figure that shot up more than tenfold in a month when big OEMs swiftly switched to mask production, motivated in part as a way to reopen their car production facilities.

  • SAIC-GM-Wuling, a joint venture between General Motors and its Chinese manufacturing partners, had been allowed to export masks earlier this month, according to an announcement released by local authorities (in Chinese).
  • Fiat Chrysler Automobiles late last month announced it will be producing masks at one of its Chinese factories, reported TechCrunch. The automaker expects to supply 1 million masks a month to health workers and others on the front line of the pandemic in North America in the coming weeks.

Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen